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Kolkata: Buoyed by the attention it received from the media for the asura depicted at its Durga puja pandal resembling Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu Mahasabha on Monday scaled up its attack on the ‘Father of the Nation’ and placed a rifle at the feet of the Hindu goddess.
Speaking to this correspondent on Sunday, the working president of the Bengal unit of the Hindu Mahasabha Chandrachur Goswami said, “We want Gandhi-mukt India. We don’t consider him the father of the nation. He did immense harm to the country.”
Goswami, who is also president of the puja organising committee, held Gandhi responsible for the deaths of Netaji and Bhagat Singh and also the death of “30 lakh people during the Partition”.
The Durga Puja, organised by the Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha near the Ruby Hospital on the EM Bypass, created a huge ruckus in Kolkata on Sunday evening after it was noticed that the ‘Asura’ in the idol resembled Mahatma Gandhi. Incidentally, Sunday was Gandhi’s birth anniversary as well.
According to the Hindu mythological text ‘Markandeya Purana’, ‘Asura’, the principal adversary of the gods, had waged a war against divinity. He was eventually slayed with a trident by Durga, the mother goddess, who rode on a lion. She is hence called ‘Mahishasuramardini’, or the slayer of the buffalo demon.
Typically, the idol that is worshipped during Durga Puja has ‘Mahishashura’ near the deity’s feet, stabbed by a trident held by Durga. He is usually shown as a muscular man with wavy hair and a handlebar moustache.
The ‘Asura’ at the Hindu Mahasabha puja pandal at Ruby Park initially had a bald head and black round-shaped spectacles. It resembled Gandhi.
TV9 Hindi first reported the matter on Sunday afternoon. The image of the deity went viral after this correspondent tweeted it in the evening. The tweet was taken down at 8:45 pm at the request of the cyber cell of the Kolkata police.
Afterwards, the face of the asura was changed. A moustache and hair were added. The trademark Gandhi specs were kept beside the idol.
Narrating the circumstances that led to the alteration in the idol, Goswami said that at around 6 pm on Sunday evening, he received three calls from unknown persons who claimed to be from the home ministry in Delhi, and threatened them of consequences if the pandal was not shut down immediately.
“We didn’t buckle under any pressure. We have our freedom of expression and we took the requisite permissions from the Kolkata police for arranging the puja,” he added.
“Then the local police came and told us they, too, were under pressure to stop the puja. They said they would either break the pandal or take the idol away. When we resisted, they forced us to change the look of the asura and got an artisan to add the moustache and hair. It was done forcefully and we do not support this,” he said.
This is the first time that the Hindu Mahasabha has arranged a Durga Puja at the spot, which is a prime location at one of the busiest crossings right at the heart of the city. The organisers said they held the puja in their office in Tollygunge until last year.
The pandal has on display the name and contact number of the idol maker from Kolkata’s famous Kumartuli area. The numbers have been switched off since Sunday night. The pandal has a photograph of Bharat Mata and a slew of portraits which include Nathuram Godse (at the centre), Madan Mohan Malviya and V.D. Savarkar. They were all associated with the Hindu Mahasabha at some point of time.
Asked about their alignment with the RSS-BJP, Sabyasachi Dutta, another organiser of the puja, said, “The Congress and the BJP are either sides of the same coin. BJP’s constitution itself says that the party believes in Gandhian socialism and Gandhian secularism. BJP toys with the idea of Hindutva for political gains. We are the real propagators of the idea of Hindu Rashtra. The only agenda of the Hindu Mahasabha is to see India as a Hindu Rashtra.”
A poster at the pandal showed what in the opinion of the organisers was proof of Gandhi’s ‘continued betrayal’. The first quote is falsely attributed to Gandhi and Alt News has debunked it in the past. Though the second quote is accurate, Gandhi made appeals to people of all religions not to retaliate to communal violence in the lead-up to and after Independence, when several inter-community killings took place.
“In 1964, while establishing the Viswa Hindu Parishad, Golwalkar said we had three main enemies — Christians, Muslims and communists. That has always been the path. But the BJP since its inception has been doing politics over Hindutva,” he added.
On Monday morning, the organisers wore black armbands to protest against the changes that they made to the idol under coercion and placed a rifle at the feet of the deity.
According to the Indian Express, the Kolkata police has filed an FIR against the organisers of the All India Hindu Mahasabha Durga Puja under sections 188 (disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant), 283 (causing danger or obstruction in any public way), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
The joint commissioner of police (Crime) Murlidhar Sharma confirmed this to Indian Express.
Indradeep Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based journalist and a senior editor with AltNews.